Film Study: Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and the Cutback Lane


Aug 31, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back T.J. Yeldon (4) carries the ball as he tries to escape Virginia Tech Hokies linebacker Josh Trimble (32) in the first quarter of the 2013 Chick-fil-a Kickoff game at the Georgia Dome. Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama Crimson Tide fans have been dissecting the victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies for several days, trying to discern the reason for the Tide’s offensive struggles. Most of the blame has gone to the offensive line, but looking at the film of the game, there is plenty to go around.

Welcome to film study class.  Our class today is in Basic Math 101, and we’ll focus our attention on the much-maligned Bama offensive line.  While there were several individual battles lost at the line of scrimmage throughout the Virginia Tech game, there were some opportunities in the running game that were simply missed.  What I think you’ll find is that sometimes the points of failure in a play can come from the most unexpected sources.

In the picture below, you can see that Virginia Tech putting just seven men in the box. Alabama is in the Pistol formation with a tight end to the right of the formation.  There are six Alabama blockers and seven Hokie defenders, so our basic math tells us Alabama has to leave someone unblocked.  In this case, it’s the strong side linebacker circled in yellow(#24).  Bama’s running play will go to the left side of the formation with all six of Alabama’s linemen blocking to their left and away from the unblocked #24.

Below, you can see the slot receiver has engaged with the Hokie defensive back and is in excellent position.  Meanwhile, Cyrus Kouandjio (#71) is kicking out the end, creating a crease for Tide running back T.J. Yeldon to run through between the left tackle and left guard (noted by the green arrow).  Arie Kouandjio is getting pushed back slightly, but you can clearly see the running lane that was available in this shot.  With the line sliding to their left, Vogler is coached to leave the outside LB free and #24 (circled) is flying down the line.  Yeldon should know the backside defender will be unblocked, especially since it happened in the first play of this series.  The only place for him to run is to his left.

Instead of pressing the hole to the middle or sliding to his left, Yeldon inexplicably decides to cut back to his right.  The Hokie defender is waiting for him, and while Yeldon makes a miraculous effort to shake him, he could have picked up a huge gain off the left side of the line.  On at least three separate occasions, Yeldon decided to go against the play design and cut back into the unblocked defender.  In the shot below, you can see that each Bama blocker is grading out well in their assignments.  Jack Gayle (#99) is just beginning to free himself but, had Yeldon taken the play where it was supposed to go, Gayle would have been a non-issue.

As you can see, the offensive line doesn’t always bear the blame when bad things happen.  Sometimes the responsibility lies with the man with the ball in his hands.  It’s a team game and, after reviewing the Virginia Tech game, there is plenty of room for improvement for every single man in the Alabama huddle – including the backs.